Kulwant Kaur, who hails from Punjab, got married to a Canada-based non-resident Indian Jaijeet almost 4 years ago. The groom’s family also lives in the same district of the state where Kulwant’s parents reside. The marriage of Kulwant was celebrated with much pomp and show. A good amount of money exchanged hands during the marriage as the boy was working in a foreign country and the tag of ‘NRI status’, in general, has its own charm and weightage.
But all the fanfare ended very soon. “Even after almost four years of my marriage, I have no idea if I am a married, a spinster or a divorced. Some time I feel that I am unmarried and at other times, I feel like a widow,” says Kulwant, who is still waiting for her husband to start her new life.
Like any other parents, Kulwant’ elders were hopeful that later or sooner their daughter will also go abroad and would live a happy life there. But this dream has remained just that. Jaijeet had come to India on a holiday visit of 15 days. He left after spending his holiday and honeymoon with a promise to make all the arrangements to call Kulwant within three months to Canada. Jaijeet never came back. His parents have also closed their doors for Kulwant, saying they are completely helplessness in the matter.
Recently, a team of National Commission for Women visited Punjab and took note of Kulwant’s case and many other similar type of victims. The team, headed by Rekha Sharma, found out that most of the Punjabi parents, especially in
rural areas, do not verify or check out the background of the NRI grooms before blindly getting their daughters married. “It is not only dangerous but also a moral crime to play with the future of these young girls, who later have nowhere to go,” said Rekha Sharma.
Over the last few years, the concept of ‘Holiday Marriage in different part of the country, particularly Punjab, has gained popularity. Many NRI grooms visit India in holidays, get married and go back with all the false promises to the bride.
“Punjab has this infection or one can say craze for ‘Bahar jana’ (wish to settle abroad). Every young person wants to go to a foreign country and every parent wishes to settle down her daughter abroad. It seems the whole life of many people in Punjab revolves around one thing ‘kidan Jaana ’ (How to fly out of the state). They study to settle abroad. They marry to get citizenship of another country. They sell their lands to go out, they divorce also just to stay out from India,” said Rekha Sharma. “Families will ask hundred things about the each and every whereabouts of boy and his family if he works in India. But in case of an NRI groom, they don’t bother to check any credential. It’s an unacceptable practice, which still is going on in the State of Punjab.
Kawaljeet is another victim of holiday marriage concept, which is popular not only in Punjab but many other states also.Kawaljeet got married and stayed with her in-laws only for 20 days . As soon her husband left the country with a big assurance to call her in short while, the in-laws of Kawaljeet took all her jewellery on the pretext of keeping them in a safe custody and sent her back to her parents house. It’s almost one year. Kawaljeet is not only waiting for her husband to call but also is hoping that one day she will get response from her in laws, who have disappeared after grabbing the whole dowry.
Many such young women, who have become victims of the Holiday Marriages in recent past, are going from pillar to post seeking justice but get little or no help either from the police or any other agency. The darkest side of all the cases is that the culprits — the grooms — are freely working and enjoying lives in foreign lands without any problem. They have no fear to be caught. No social stigma bothers them. They come here, ruin the lives of young girls and go back.
“We are also investigating few cases of holidays marriages, where boys are easily getting divorced in other countries and they have guts to again come back here for another Holiday Marriage or Holiday Bride” said Rekha Sharma.
It’s not new or surprising that not only the parents but even the girls prefer to marry an NRI even if they have a choice to select an educated, well-settled groom in India. The qualification of job in foreign countries interests them more. We are moving towards 21 century but the situation remains the same in many parts of our country. Affluent and more educated people generally do not get trapped easily into for such marriages. But the number of such families is negligible. The NCW has received 3,229 such cases till the date since its NRI cell was setup.
During 2014, as many as 346 cases were registered with the NRI cell of the National Commission for Women. In the year 2016, a total of 468 complaints were received by NCW of victimised women of NRI marriages.
This year the NCW received 311 such complaints until June, of which 289 cases are from Punjab alone. NRI Cell of Punjab receives almost 5,000 complaints every year related to NRI marriages.
According to a paper published by the New Jersey based-NGO Manavi, there were 12,000 abandoned women living in Gujarat in 2004. A 2007 study estimated 25,000 wives of NRIs had been deserted in Punjab. In 2008, the then Union minister for ‘Overseas Indian Affairs’ had stated that in Punjab alone, at least 20,000 legal cases were pending against NRI husbands, presumably for abandoning wives.
The situation hasn’t changed yet in Punjab, which still tops the complaints related to NRI marriages. Punjab reportedly has the ignominy of having a maximum number of abandoned wives but other states like Delhi, Kerala, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are not far behind. The startling point is that even in Kerala where literacy rate is 100 percent and in Delhi where we think more aware, educated people reside, complains related to NRI marriages are much more.
“Every month we receive almost 10-15 complaints related to NRI marriages at Delhi Commission for Women. These complaints are from Delhi and NCR regions. As the current law is not strict enough to deal with NRI grooms, who abandoned their brides here and go back to related countries.
It is difficult to get them back to the country. So it is extremely crucial to amend the law,” said Swati Maliwal, Chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Women and Member of the recently formed committee by Ministry of External Affairs on NRI marriages and the related disputes.
Swati said Punjab is the only state where NRI Commission has been formatted. We need such Commission in every state as powerful as Human rights Commission. Recently Swati went to Haryana and Punjab to discuss the problems to find solutions and talk about the law related to NRI marriage frauds. She emphasised on strict laws to deal with NRI men who abandon their Indian wives.
For the first time, Delhi Commission for Women has taken initiative to compile all the complaints on NRI marriage disputes from other states and send them to the recently formed ‘Committee’. The Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) has sought suggestions from the public on the disputes involving women married to NRIs. The DCW has released a special email ID ([email protected]) for people (especially NRIs, experts, and NGOs) to share their suggestions/ideas/experiences on the issue.
The DCW team is now contacting NGOs to seek their opinion. Maliwal has also written to the NRI Commissions of Punjab, Kerala, and Goa, and chairpersons of women commissions across the country, asking for data on the number of such cases in their states.The committee is supposed to submit its report to the government by August.
The need to form such committee had been demanded since long as complaints related to NRI marriages poured in a big way. A committee has been formed recently includes 13 representatives from all ministries concerned, including external affairs, home affairs, and women and child development.
Initially, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi had taken the initiative. As her Ministry had been receiving lots of complaint by those women who are abandoned by their NRI husbands. Menka Gandhi had floated a proposal for a high-level committee to handle such complaints.
Arti (name changed), a bride from Delhi and a victim of NRI marriage fraud, Arti (name changed) is optimistic that the committee will help her to get justice. Arti hails from a middle class family of Delhi, always dreamt of going abroad. After a lot of efforts, she was married to Ajay in a simple wedding in India. Ajay left after 20 for New York.
Arti joined him after two months. but within a month Arti was shocked when she came to know Ajay had a live-in girlfriend. On the pretext of buying a new house Ajay even took away all the cash from Arti. Disheartened Arti came back to India recently and filed a complaint with DCW. She wants justice and punishment not only for Ajay but also his parents who directly or indirectly were alleged to be a part of the whole conspiracy.
A senior official in the Home Ministry said the most common complaints from women in NRI marriages is that their passports are taken away so they won’t be able to travel. Some culprits disappear leaving their brides behind in India. Others abandon them in foreign countries.
At present, abandoned wives can only initiate criminal proceeding against their husbands under Section 498A (husband cruelty) — the offense which is punishable with a maximum imprisonment of three years. “In Punjab, the police is also using section 420 of IPC but there is no result.It seems like people don’t have any fear of the existing Law which is really lenient,” said Swati Maliwal.
“In spite of the fact that we are claiming to live in ‘modern India,’ and Digital India ‘ while in reality a large number of people do not have the access to the digital world. This mainly is due to lack of knowledge. Though now a days the status of an NRI boy, his security number, marital status and many other informations can be obtained through the internet, but looking at the mushrooming fraud cases of NRI marriages, it’ seems people are still not friendly with the internet. More than any law, this problem should be dealt by awareness and through proper education to girl child “
Ishwar Singh, IG, NRI cell of Punjab said it’s not always fraud in the marriages. “In few cases, girls are not able to adjust in another countries because the things are not the same as in India. The social values and cultural changes create a gap between husband and wife which leads to divorce. So it is important to create awareness among masses. The bright and dark sides of living outside India should be made clear to the masses,” he said.
Ranjana Kumari, Director, Centre for Social Science, said that the parents of the girl should enquire each and every detail of NRI groom. “This is the matter of their daughter’s life. Secondly, stringent law for culprits must be made,” she said.
To help women abandoned by their NRI husbands, the government will soon launch a centralised Web portal that will be a repository of information on lawyers and NGOs working in this field and a list of dos and don’ts for them.
The decision has been taken by a three-member committee comprising officials of the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the Ministry of External Affairs and Home Ministry.
The portal will help women who have been abandoned by men abroad and are struggling to get a divorce or seeking maintenance from them and their children. Also, the MEA had recently issued a booklet ‘Marriages to Overseas
Indians’. It contains information on safeguards available to women deserted by their NRI spouses, legal remedies available, authorities that can be approached for redressal of grievances and non-governmental organisations which can provide assistance.
The committee, formed last year to address the issue after such complaints poured in, has taken a series of measures to protect the rights of these women, including providing financial aid of US$3,000 in developed countries and US $2,000 in developing ones.
The committee felt that there was a need to set up a single-point redressal system, where such women can register their grievances, find help from civil society groups and are made aware of the institutionalised aid that they can get from the government of India.
Registration of each marriage, setting up of NRI Commission in each state, framing new laws and giving more teeth to old ones, are some of the important recommendations made by the committee.
The Law Commission is seriously working on a new law draft, which will not only protect married Indian women but also support women in live-in relationships with NRIs or foreign nationals.
The proposed law titled ‘Protection of Women from foreign residents Act’ prescribes punishment ranging from one year to life imprisonment depending on the gravity of torture. It will also make it easier for women to file cases against husbands.
Under present laws, the police can proceed against NRIs or foreign nationals accused of committing an offense only after obtaining sanction from the Central government, which is a long process, but proposed new law won’t cater this clause also.
Now it’s a high time to make strict laws and create awareness among masses to create a hiatus into this flourishing malpractice. In this direction, the plank of the government is appreciable.
But the implementation of every rule and every policy is crucial. The time only will reveal the success or failure of the government initiatives in abolishing the growing concept of Holiday Marriages.